12/1/17 – Thrill Barton

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

The Cleveland Cavaliers won their tenth straight game, defeating the lowly Atlanta Hawks, 121-114. Dennis Schroder had 27 points and 5 assists for Atlanta, while Marco Belinelli came off the bench to score 22 on 8-11 shooting. It mattered not, as Kevin Love sprung for 25 points and 16 rebounds, and LeBron James chipped in with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 12 assists on 8-11 shooting.

“We know it’s 10 because everyone talks about it and everyone’s on social media and things of that nature,” said LeBron after the game. “But we understand how we got here. And that’s defense and the way we’ve been playing offensively. … If you win 10-plus games in any sport, major sport, that’s very, very good.”

The streak is the longest current winning streak in the NBA, and the Cavs will look to keep it going on Saturday against the struggling Memphis Grizzlies.

“Saturday, it’s another struggling team, and we understand that,” James added. “But we understand we’re going to get their best in Memphis, so we look forward to the challenge.”

The Denver Nuggets, already without Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler, were dealt another blow last night when Nikola Jokic injured his ankle. It happened towards the end of the first half when he stepped on Jerian Grant’s foot, badly turning his ankle. He was fouled on the play, and was slated to shoot free throws, but he instead tried heading straight to the locker room. The Nuggets had to call a timeout, and veteran Richard Jefferson had to corral him, and explain that if he left the game without shooting his free throws, he’d be unable to return for the rest of the night.

“It was chaotic. It was a timeout, and he was saying he was done,” said Jefferson. “I was like, ‘Dude, if don’t go and shoot the free throws, one, the other team gets to pick who shoots them, and two, if you go back in the half and you start feeling a little better, you can’t come back.”’

It ended up not mattering. After Jokic sank his two throws, he left the game and was not seen again, finishing the night with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 15:55 of action. Thankfully, X-Rays were negative, and hopefully, all he has is a sprain. He’ll be looked at again today.

As for the game itself, it came down to a wild finish in the final seconds. First, Chicago’s Kris Dunn drove to the hoop for a layup with 9.6 seconds left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead. But then…

Will Barton finished the night with a career high 37 points off the bench on 13-19 shooting, taking over in the absence of Jokic.

“There’s Will Barton and there’s Thrill Barton,” said Nuggets coach Mike Malone. “And tonight you saw Thrill Barton.”

“I was telling my teammates give me the ball and get out of the way,” said Thrill Barton after the game.

It was a big win for the Nuggets, who had to finish the game without their entire starting front court. A loss at home to the lowly Bulls would be too much to take, but Barton ensured that at least for one night, panic was averted. That being said, Denver cannot afford to go any significant amount of time without Jokic, who leads them in points, rebounds and assists.

In our Game of the Night, the Celtics pulled away from the Sixers down the stretch for a 108-97 victory. Kyrie Irving scored 36 to lead Boston, and as he often does, led the charge as the C’s put the game away.

“Some guys think a lot quicker than others. I was just fortunate enough that my mind works a lot quicker than other people in the fourth quarter,” explained Irving, whose quick mind has been known to postulate that the world is flat.

Marcus Smart had high praise for his teammate, and a comparison to last year’s heroics from Isaiah Thomas.

“It’s tremendous. Like I said about Isaiah, sometimes you just get caught watching the way he’s able to score the ball. [Irving] came in and it is refreshing to see a guy come in and give you what you need. He gets to where he wants to go. He doesn’t stop until he gets there. When you’ve got a player like that, it’s hard to stop.”

Al Horford added 21 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists on 9-12 shooting for Boston. The Sixers played without Joel Embiid, who is still restricted from appearing in the second night of a back to back.

Rounding out the night, the Jazz defeated the Clippers, 126-107, in a battle between injury plagued teams, and the Bucks got a win on the road in Portland, 103-91.

THE NIGHT AHEAD

Game of the Night – Detroit Pistons at Washington Wizards (7:00 pm, League Pass)

The Wizards, a team that considers itself a major player in the East (just ask them), have stumbled out of the gate, and are currently without the services of John Wall, a predicament that might send them spiraling further down the Eastern standings. They’ve lost five of their last seven as they suffer through these trying times. Meanwhile, much has been made of the Pistons fine play of late. Winners of four of their last five games, they seem to be getting better and better each night. They’ll be looking to continue the trend against a team currently headed in the opposite direction.

Another intriguing matchup is between the Raptors and the Pacers. Toronto’s been flying under the radar a bit this season, but they’ve won six of their last eight and have been looking like their usual solid selves. The Pacers will be looking to bounce back after a big loss to the Rockets, which snapped them back to reality after having won seven of their last nine coming into that game. Nevertheless, they’ve been one of the league’s pleasant surprises this season, and they’ll face another good test against the steady Raptors at 7:30 pm on League Pass.

 

 

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11/30/17 – It’s A Complete Joke

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

Kristaps Porzingis had to be helped off the court after an ankle injury, but the Knicks still won, soundly defeating the Heat, 115-86. Enes Kanter led the way with 22 points and 14 rebounds on 7-9 shooting, but nobody cares because everyone is holding their breath about Porzingis. The injury occurred a mere two and a half minutes into the game when Justise Winslow stepped on his foot, severely turning the Knicks star’s ankle.

“It snapped bad,” said Porzingis, who was 2-2 with four points in his brief time on the court. “I felt it right in that moment, but I didn’t want to show any emotions.”

Luckily for the Knicks, X-Rays on the ankle came back negative, and they were able to run away with a big victory. As for now, there’s no word on how long Porzingis will be out. New York’s next game isn’t until Sunday, when they host the Orlando Magic.

Another night, another big ejection. One night after LeBron got tossed, this time it was none other than Anthony Davis who found himself sentenced to an early exit.

As you can see in the video, it was a close game at that point, with Davis having already contributed 17 points and 5 rebounds on 7-13 shooting. Things went downhill from there, as the Timberwolves pulled away for a 120-102 victory.

“You could feel the momentum shift,” Andrew Wiggins (28 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 10-18 shooting) said, referring to Davis’ ejection. “It helped ignite a big run that we were able to outscore them.”

“It’s a joke. It’s a complete joke,” said DeMarcus Cousins (17 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists), himself no stranger to ejections. “What I don’t understand is that players are punished for playing off emotion or showing their emotion… but other people are allowed to and it’s totally fine.”

Jrue Holliday led New Orleans with 27 points and 5 assists, but they weren’t able to recover from losing Davis. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, had seven players reach double figure scoring, led by the aforementioned Andrew Wiggins.

Our Game of the Night turned out to be no contest, as the Rockets easily took care of the Pacers, to the tune of a 118-97 victory, putting the finishing touches on an excellent November in which they went 12-1, good enough to find themselves atop the Western Conference. James Harden, who has to be the frontrunner for Western Conference Player of the Month, finished with 29 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists. Thaddeus Young scored 23 points on 11-15 shooting to lead the Pacers.

It required overtime, but the Warriors were able to outlast a valiant Lakers effort, on their way to a 127-123 victory down at the Staples Center. Steph Curry set the tone in OT by hitting a pair of three pointers to give the Warriors a quick six points and an important boost. He finished with 28 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists, while Kevin Durant led the way with 29, 7 & 5. Brandon Ingram led everyone with 32 points, to go along with 5 rebounds for the Lakers. Jordan Clarkson (21-6-8) and Julius Randle (20 points, 9-13 shooting) provided excellent sparks of the Los Angeles bench, but it wasn’t enough to get them over the hump against the defending champs.

The Orlando Magic put an end to a nine game losing streak, notching a 121-108 win over the struggling Thunder. The game was close until the end of the third quarter, when the Magic embarked on a 28-5 run that lasted well into the fourth. Aaron Gordon was magnificent, finishing with 40 points and 15 rebounds. Russell Westbrook had 37 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals, while shooting 7-10 from downtown, but OKC’s struggles continued.

After the game, Westbrook took responsibility for the Thunder’s lackluster play, saying, “To get us out of this funk we’ve got to lock in. That starts with me and I’ll take ownership because I’ve been here…I know the standards we set.”

The 76ers fended off the Washington Wizards, 118-113, in a game that featured over 100 free throws. Down 84-65 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Wizards employed some intentional fouls, sending lousy free throw shooter Ben Simmons to the line over and over again to see if they could close the gap. While they outscored the Sixers, 48-34 in the final quarter, they still fell just short. When all was said and done, Simmons had shot 29 free throws, hitting 15 of them, on his way to a stellar 31 point, 18 rebound performance. Joel Embiid also visited the line often, racking up 18 free throws, sinking 13 and finishing with 25 points and 14 boards. Kelly Oubre led the Wizards with 22 points and 7 rebounds off the bench, while fellow reserve Jodie Meeks scored 21, a figure that was matched by starter Bradley Beal.

As is always the case with a game like this, the Intentional Foul Debate was once again swirled up. My official stance is that if a horrendous free throw shooter like Andre Drummond, the owner of the worst career free throw percentage in NBA history, can boost his performance at the line to the point where he’s no longer considered a liability down the stretch, as he’s done this season, then we shouldn’t have to change the rules for other players who haven’t been able to improve their free throw shooting. Also, watching a crummy free throw shooter go to the line over and over again doesn’t seem to bother me as much. There’s a certain drama to seeing if they can make their opponents pay for trying to exploit their weakness.

A big night from LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs to a 104-95 victory over the increasingly depressing Memphis Grizzlies, playing their first game after firing coach David Fizdale. Aldridge was hot from the start, sinking 3 three pointers in the early stages of the game to get himself rolling. He ended the night with 41 points and 6 rebounds on 17-24 shooting. Tyreke Evans led the Grizzlies with 22 points and 5 assists, while Marc Gasol, after his benching in the fourth quarter in their last game touched off the David Fizdale Ruckus, played a team high 35:43, racking up 10 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists.

Lastly, the Raptors got a huge contribution from their prized back court, leading them to a 126-113 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 66 points on 26-40 shooting, which would be tough for any team to overcome. Adding difficulty to their situation, the Hornets were without Kemba Walker, and on top of that, their starting back court of Nicolas Batum and Michael Carter-Williams managed to combine for a paltry 19 points on 4-19 shooting. Yuck.

THE NIGHT AHEAD

Game of the Night – Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics (7:30 pm, NBA TV)

For some reason, there’s no TNT doubleheader tonight, but National Basketball Association Television has one, and it kicks off with the Sixers visiting the Celtics. Firstly, it’s great to have both of these ancient rivals fielding worthy teams at the same time. The Celtics are looking to bounce back from dropping a home game on Monday against another one of their old enemies, the also worthy Detroit Pistons. Meanwhile, the Sixers have won four of their last five, and have established themselves as a must watch. Unfortunately, this being the second night of a back to back, Joel Embiid will not be participating for the Sixers. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer before he is free of these restrictions. The NBA is a better place with him in it, and it’s a much better place when the Celtics and Sixers are both good.

 

11/29/17 – A Bad Taste In My Mouth

Before we get to last night’s action, we must catch up on some news. First of all, as you know by now, Memphis fired coach David Fizdale just a day after Marc Gasol voiced his displeasure at a lack of playing time down the stretch of Sunday’s 98-88 loss to the Nets. While it’s been noted that Gasol and Fizdale did not see eye to eye, the move was still shocking. Fizdale is well respected as a coach, and had done some good things in Memphis. However, this season is starting to look like a lost season for them. Their myriad injury issues have finally caught up with them, and they’ve lost eight straight games.

“Nobody likes to be in the situation we’re in,” said Gasol. “And we were not finding a way to win collectively. We were breaking apart. Me and David didn’t see everything eye-to-eye all the time. But we both had the same intentions of making the team a collective, really strong unit. We couldn’t find a way to do that.”

As for whether or not Gasol asked ownership to fire Fizdale, the Grizzlies center explained, “I never try to accomplish anything like that. I always have (the coach’s) back… It’s shocking but it’s the nature of this business. Next time, it might be me. Next time it might be somebody else. The franchise is bigger than any player or coach. We’ve all got to be ready.”

JB Bickerstaff will step in as interim coach for the rest of the season, something he did back in Houston, when the Rockets fired Kevin McHale.

The Los Angeles Clippers, whose season was already entering a downward spiral thanks to a slew of injuries, received more bad news yesterday. Blake Griffin will miss the next two months with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Already without Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic and and Danillo Gallinari, the Clippers have been struggling to stay afloat, and suffered a nine game losing streak. Now, without their best player for the next couple of months, things are about to get significantly worse.

“Listen, you don’t want injuries,” said coach Doc Rivers. “And when you have them, you just got to pull within and see if you can steal each game. That’s where we’re at right now. Every game is a game that we have to try to get and that’s where we’re at.”

Even before Griffin’s injury, people had started to speculate whether or not Doc Rivers time in LA could be approaching its end. He’s not one for adversity or rebuilding, and with DeAndre Jordan trade rumors starting to surface, the Clippers might at least be exploring the rebuild option.

“It’s definitely tough, but I can’t give up on my teammates,” said Jordan to Bleacher Report. “I’ve got to stay positive, and hopefully it will turn around.”

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

LeBron James was ejected for the very first time in his career in the Cavs 108-97 victory over the Miami Heat.

As it turns out, LeBron was given just one technical, but whatever he said was enough for the ref to feel like he needed to toss him out out of the game.

“I got fouled all the way up the court, from the time that I stripped him, all the way until I got to the rim. I said what I had to say and then I moved on, but he decided I should get [ejected]. It is what it is. We got the win, and that’s what’s most important,” explained James, who finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals on 10-16 shooting.

Dwyane Wade (17 points, 5 rebounds off the bench) shared his two cents on the ejection, saying, “I mean, I just thought it was quick. I mean, a player like him, you give him the benefit of the doubt. He says something, you give him a tech, kind of walk away and let him calm down. That’s it. That’s all I got on that.”

Kevin Love led Cleveland with 38 points and 9 rebounds on 10-16 shooting and 14-17 from the free throw line. Most of that damage was done in the first half, where Cleveland built up a 75-49 halftime lead. Their big start made it possible for them to ensure survival without the ejected James, as Cleveland was outscored, 48-33, in the second half.

The Bulls were able to make things interesting after falling behind by 15 in the fourth quarter, but ultimately, they fell to the Phoenix Suns, 104-99. Justin Holliday had 25 points and 5 assists for Chicago, while Kris Dunn contributed 24 points, 8 assists and 4 steals. Devin Booker had 33 points and 9 rebounds to lead the Suns, and Alex Len came off the bench for 13 points and 18 rebounds.

The game was notable for the first appearance on the bench of Nikola Mirotic, who of course hasn’t been traveling with the team ever since he got his face broken by teammate Bobby Portis in a practice altercation right at the start of the season.

The Washington Wizards came back to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 92-89 road victory. Otto Porter gave them the lead with just 25.9 seconds to go, and the Timberwolves were unable to produce an answer. As I watched the game, it seemed like Minnesota was exhausted by the end, as their lack of depth caught up with them. Already without starter Jeff Teague and key reserve Nemanja Bjelica, the Wolves played each of their starters at least 37 minutes, and they simply seemed to run out of steam by the end. For instance, Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns each played the entire fourth quarter, shooting a combined 3-12.

“It’s a bad taste in my mouth,” said Minnesota’s Taj Gibson (16 points, 11 rebounds). “I feel like we should have won that one, but we’ve got to look forward.”

Adding salt to the wound, the Wizards were playing without John Wall, and Bradley Beal had just 8 points and 6 assists on 2-11 shooting. Otto Porter stepped up with 22 points and 8 rebounds, including the go ahead shot down the stretch. Washington also got a good contribution from their bench, with Kelly Oubre (16), Mike Scott (12) and Jodie Meeks (12) all scoring in double digits. Karl-Anthony Towns led Minnesota with 20 points and 17 rebounds.

The Bucks went out to Sacramento and took care of the Kings with a 112-87 victory. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 32 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals on 11-16 shooting.

Finishing off last night’s action, the Utah Jazz slaughtered the Denver Nuggets, 106-77, despite missing Rodney Hood and Rudy Gobert. The Nuggets were without Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler. Derrick Favors led Utah with 24 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists on 12-16 shooting.

THE NIGHT AHEAD

Game of the Night – Indiana Pacers at Houston Rockets (8:00 pm, League Pass)

The Pacers have won six of their last seven games as they continue their impressive start to the season. Tonight, they’ll face another tough test down in Houston. The Rockets have won five in a row, and eleven of their last twelve, as they’ve maintained their lead atop the Western Conference standings. With the Warriors dealing with some nagging injuries, and at times not looking like themselves, can the Rockets sustain their momentum and fend them off for the top spot in the West? It’s probably still too early to talk that way, but a nice win over the plucky Pacers would be another step in that direction.